Christ's Shame is Part of His Obedience

by Frank Jones

I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. For the Lord God helps Me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set My face like flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed. (Isaiah 50:6-7)

"At first glance it seems strange that at least part of the Servant’s obedience is to submit to humiliation and abuse. But on further reflection, if his ministry is prophetic, that result is not so strange. To be a prophet in Israel was synonymous with humiliation and abuse.35 Unlike the institutional prophets, who were at the center of social power, the true prophets stood at the periphery.36 There, instead of making it easy for persons to manipulate God, they confronted godless behavior with a call for change. That kind of message was never well received. As Calvin said, whoever faithfully administers the Word will be exposed to a contest with the world. But it is part of this Servant’s obedience that he gave his back to those who struck him, and his cheeks to those who plucked out his beard; he did not hide his face from shame and spit. These things are not merely a secondary result of obediently declaring God’s Word; it is part of the Servant’s obedience to give himself to these things (cf. John 10:17–18). If we did not have the fourth Servant passage, we would be left wondering why obedience to God should require such giving. At the same time, if we did not have that passage, we would still have here an inkling that obedient suffering was somehow an integral part of this prophet’s calling, as it was not that of any other.

Westermann says that in the ancient Near Eastern culture if someone submitted meekly to public humiliation he was admitting, at least tacitly, that he had done something to deserve the abuse. But this person, after meekly submitting, then turns around and declares that, in fact, he had not done one thing wrong. Whether this interpretation is correct or not, the presence of the waw conjunction on the first word of v. 7 makes plain that there is a sequential connection between the verses. The repetition of shame in the two verses further confirms the connection. As some writers have maintained, the waw may have a disjunctive force: I submitted, but God will declare me innocent.37 At any rate, the Servant makes plain that since the difficulties that befell him are the result not of disobedience but of obedience, he can be confident of God’s help. Being confident of that help, he knows that he will not be disgraced in the end. This is the particular Hebrew use of “shame” in the sense of being shown to have taken a foolish course of action. Yes, the Servant may have been set up for public ridicule, but in the end it will be amply proved that his decision to trust God, be obedient to him, and leave the outcome in his hands was the right decision. He will not be shamed by that choice. Because the Servant knows he had made the right choice, he can march firmly forward into the humiliation and abuse, with a face like flint.38 Others may say he is a fool; he knows that the final outcome will prove him right. Here he would be following the course that other prophets had taken (cf. Jer. 1:15; Ezek. 3:9)." Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998, 325-326.